In a recent TED talk, Nathan Wolfe describes speaking to a group of middle schoolers about biology and exploration (see the 7-minute video below):
It’s apt that this question comes from a 12-year-old, a life full of potential and wonder. Unfortunately, it takes only a few years of public education and Internet-brousing to snuff out this curiosity. Why use imagination when it won’t be on the standardized test? Why pursue mystery when I can Google the answer to any of my questions?
In response to that 12-year-old’s question, I offer one word: God. We worship an infinite God with a vast character, full of mystery and awe. To not be curious about God means that we’ve missed something critical in our youth ministry ethos. Fostering wonder requires a creative spirit and a desire to pique curiosity in students’ imaginations, inviting them to explore the character and nature of the Divine. Mike Yaconelli’s classic youth ministry book Dangerous Wonder dared us to “jump first, fear later.”
Here are four ways to create a culture of curiosity in your youth ministry:
Doubt and disequilibration. Ask hard questions and don’t give immediate answers. Respond to questions with a question of your own: what do you think? Let students live in the tension of the unknown. Jesus often spoke in parables, and it wasn’t to help people understand better; these weren’t sermon illustrations. He tells his disciples in Luke 8 that he has given them the secrets of the kingdom of God, but “to others I speak in parables, so that, ‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’” Let students know that doubt is pivotal in our faith development–it is not the destination, but it certainly is part of the journey.
Nature and creation. Get students outside. Take them into them mountains on a hike, or down to the ocean at sunrise or sunset. Float down a river in kayaks or innertubes. Look up at the stars for an hour. Walk around your church campus together and notice the flowers, the bugs, the birds, the rocks, the wind. Nature has both beauty and danger, both inspiring vistas and dangerous cliffs. It points us to the Creator and to both the vastness of our created world and our tiny-but-significant role in the midst of it.
Give experiments. Let students doodle during your teaching. Make people move around the room during worship. Hand out playdoh or crayons or watercolor paint or journals or Legos or origami or photographs or magazines. Have students do experiments throughout the week that challenge their thinking and ordinary schedules. This isn’t just giving another application point at the end of a lesson; this is inviting students to simply try something new and different for a week. “Read your Bible every day” isn’t a creative experiment; “read a passage of Scripture and rewrite it in your own words” or “make a YouTube movie from this Biblical story” are both better.
Be childlike. Not childish, per se. We’re not trying to foster immaturity. Instead, be silly and playful. Spend time just watching your own kids and allow them to be spiritual guides in their childlike wonder. If you don’t have kids of your own (or you have adult children), volunteer to babysit or help in a children’s ministry. Dance, laugh, run, climb, sing, smile. Having a presence of a childlike adult who is fully of curiosity and wonder allows students to see that their imaginations don’t have to fade over time.
How else can you foster wonder and whimsy in your ministry? Share in the comments!